Are we the “fad generation”? The age group more concerned about crazes, trends and what is in vogue rather than social issues? Probably. In fact, there is very little chance of denying such. We use hashtags in our speech “because it is ironic or cool”, we “planked” or “owled” because everyone was doing it and a minority of us, a very dark, depressed and desperate minority, cut themselves so that Justin Bieber would behave better. Trends dictate what we talk about, how we talk about them and how long we talk about them for. The latter is what I am most concerned with today, how we embark upon these memes or campaigns because they are in fashion yet, once the trend drops off Twitter’s radar and the craze is over, we seem to forget and move onto the next exciting fad. Additionally, I am concerned with how this plays a part in producing a generation of slacktivists, happy to lend a hashtag but not a proper voice to any real cause, and how this is time, energy and potential wasted.
Globalisation is not just in markets and immigration but also in the way we interact with people from all over the world online. The benefits of this is that we get to learn about all the amazing or cultural things occurring in other countries, the costs of this is that we also receive a barrage of all the rubbish things the rest of the world is doing, much of which we copy. #Necknominations originated with the Australians, “planking” came from England (so proud) and #Kony2012 from American activists. The difference between the three is that whilst the former two were done for jokes, the latter was social media’s attempt to provide some kind of purpose for itself through achieving justice against Joseph Kony. However, the differences end there. Just as “planking” was an internet sensation that soon became “lame”, so did Kony become a forgotten cause as we moved onto the next trend that grabbed our attention. The short-termism embedded in such trends means that even those campaigns that mean well often become forgotten, despite the issue not necessarily being resolved. The creators of Kony 2012, Invisible Children, promised that the campaign would not be a “passing fad”. However, how can we bring Joseph Kony, a war criminal who is guilty of rape, use of child soldiers and whose activities have displaced 2million people, to justice when we are too busy trending about whether Nicki Minaj’s behind is real?
It may be that, rather than us being human beings who are fickle and easily distracted, we may simply not care quite as much as we would like to think. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS described this as “slacktivism…people who support a cause by performing simple measures but are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change”. It is understandable to fall into this slacktivist approach because of the ease of uploading a photo of ourselves without makeup on, donating £3 and feeling like we have cured cancer. This may seem overly critical of what were mostly sincere acts to defeat cancer, but at the same time honesty needs to prevail and in all honesty I just complied with what my friends were doing at the time. Does this necessarily make me a bad person? No. But it does make me a slacktivist. The issue with this is that we treat serious campaigns in a similar fashion as to how we treat our #Necknominations and planks, disregarding the fact that the former, at their core, have immense effects on people’s lives. However, we still pass on the cause, hashtag it and say that “this is important” to feel that sense of self-accomplishment that enables us to sleep at night with that little bit of self-righteousness we all secretly love.
Yet, this tends to achieve very little. In regards to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, international media suddenly shot its cameras towards Nigeria in a way that the country had not experienced since its civil war in the 1960s. In just 10 days the hashtag was used over 2.3million times. However, despite the worldwide attention, the girls still have not been found and the Nigerian government has reduced its search effort significantly. Is this a reflection on the weakness of the online campaign? Yes, the governments involved waited for the attention to subside, which they knew it would, so that the pressure for them to act would be lifted. Fox News agrees – Yes, Fox the source of all truth and fairness, does actually make some sense for once. When discussing the lack of response from Boko Haram and the Nigerian government to the campaign George Will, a Fox correspondent, said it was a “useless exercise in self-esteem and that … I do not know how adults stand there, facing a camera, and say, ‘Bring back our girls.’ Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh oh, Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behaviour’?”
This is, however, not only slightly politically incorrect, “barbarians” et al, but also a severely harsh critique of internet activism. Although online activism has its shortcomings, the amount of attention it provides to such causes can have a monumental, albeit often short, effect. Stephen Sutton’s online presence was able to raise almost £4m for charity, and his death garnered deserved attention for bowel cancer. Furthermore, the cross-over from slacktivist to activist, when achieved, is a colossal force that has been known to cripple even the most repressive and entrenched governments. The success of the Arab Spring and its online presence is evidence of this as it was a long-fought triumph for social media’s power. Online activism in itself is not the issue, it is perhaps more the way we use it.
Thus, we may be the “fad generation” and have a tendency to write “#YOLO” one day because Drake said it and then on another day upload a video of us twerking because Miley Cyrus did it. I can accept this craze addiction. However, I cannot accept our short-term approach to online activism. Social media, hashtag activism or whatever name we may have for it has the potential to spread messages and causes across the globe, but only if we commit and become truly devoted, beyond a hashtag, to the cause.